“We have to kill that pod!!!”
-Donald Sutherland, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers
If you’re going to go to a prerelease, you might as well go for the gold. Trading for cards, seeing old friends, watching new stuff in action, phaw! In it to win it baby.
With that decidedly unsocial thought in mind, I’ve looked over the spoiler to look for themes and tricks to help you smash your pod!
After a review of the major mechanics of the set, we’ll go over a few particular cards of each color that may be getting misevaluated this Saturday. Sometimes stuff needs a few months to come into its own, but why wait?
All spoiler information is courtesy of mtgnews.com. It’s possible there are some errors from the spoiler to the actual cards; if so I apologize for any confusion.
The most major of the themes in Saviors is the hand-size-matters. In all honesty, it’s a theme I initially wasn’t fond of because it didn’t allow players to make certain mistakes. For example, how often do you play someone in Limited who just empties their grip; who puts a land they draw into play automatically? It’s horrendous, and now people will be far less inclined to play like that, which is one less advantage for the skilled player.
However, as I looked through the spoiler, I realized that mechanic is a little more subtle than I gave it credit for. The purpose of the theme is to look at cards differently, and in most cases, build one’s deck differently. For example, take a look at the Green Epic card:
Endless Swarm 5GGG
Put a 1/1 Snake into play for each card in your hand
Now in some formats this would be a mega-bomb. It’s hard to lose when you have 4-7 Kjeldoran Outposts going at once. It might in fact be a bomb in this format too. But by playing an eight-mana card, you are sacrificing hand size matters for every other card in your deck. You will need to keep playing lands and most likely creatures as well. This is true for all cards above 5, although to a lesser degree. I won’t say which style is more effective, but do keep in mind it’s very difficult to run both.
In a similar vein, Strength of Cedars got worse. Make Strength effective or hamstring it and use other cards in your deck to their full potential. Not to mention the Curtain of Light… Strength of Cedars may no longer be a good splash.
Sweep is a minor mechanic that has all strong cards. Besides a useful spell, you get the great bonus of helping your hand size, probably enough to outrank theirs. Again though, you need to choose whether to keep laying lands to make them more effective or hold onto to the cards in hand in case you don’t draw the Sweep. The best of the bunch is Charge Across the Araba.
Insta-Overrun anyone? It’s absurdly good in White Limited, uncommon to boot, and not even White’s best! Expect this and Hail of Arrows a lot this weekend.
The other major theme of the set is the Channel cards. Bad to adequate creatures that can be discarded for poor effects. To determine how good a channel effect, simply look to the creature. The best cards discarded are the best cards played, and in the case of Shinen of Flight’ Wings, the fact that it channels is a mere afterthought. From my previous inflammatory statements, my feelings on these cards are pretty obvious. I’m sure you can get some cute Soulshift stuff moving, but how exciting is it to re-use Jump? Or Lightning Blow? Or Sacred Nectar? There is a counterspell for four mana and a big discard effect for seven. The best ones are the +4+4 for 4 mana and the four damage for four mana. They are also by far the best ones to play out, with extremely useful abilities. Thus, it’s more likely those cards are not in a player’s hand should you need to call a bluff or whatnot.
Each color has a mini-Epic creature which has good stats in return for you returning an appropriate colored creature to your hand. While they’re probably too good not to use, judicious removal from your opponent can really mess up your tempo. Try to lean towards playing them last from your hand, even if you could theoretically play them earlier for quicker beats. As we’ll soon see, this is not a format that rewards people who get out to a quick start.
My final comment before going through the colors for standout cards is the speed. Basically, there isn’t any. Those precious two-drops in CoK just keeping looking worse and worse. More higher-end toughness on creatures and more first strike means aggressive tempo ain’t what it used to be. With that in mind, I highly recommend drawing first if you have the option. Besides the standard “punishing people who build decks wrong” aspect, you have hand size mattering and things being slow. I hope I don’t get a deck that wants to play first, because that probably means a bad card pool.
Finally, a few interesting cards in each color
White is one of the winners of Saviors. Two good Sweep spells, strong early defense and solid Uncommons means seeing a lot of Plains at the top tables. I’d predict W/B/r and G/B/r to be the most common archetypes at the x-0 spot.
Aether Shockwave: Not so good. A lot of things have to go right for this one to be useful, up to and especially drawing it at the right time. Tapping half to 2/3 of their creatures just doesn’t have the punch of a pure Ensnare.
Curtain of Light: Alas, not Arcane. No Ninjas to quell either. It’s still a solid spell that you can hold off casting as long as you want i.e. if you can’t cast it you’re winning anyway. Lots of potential for card advantage.
Hail of Arrows: The most splashed card of the set. Sickeningly good, it’s a reason to play out more lands. It doesn’t matter how many creatures that get bonuses your opponent has if they’re all dead.
Kitsune Bonesetter: If by the grace of God this thing works perfectly, than you still have a 0/1 for 3 mana. Please do not play this card and expect it to do anything.
Spiritual Visit: This is the wild card in the bunch. I know I’d rather have a Blessed Breath 9 times out of 10, so I’m thinking it’s pretty weak. Good for bouncing x-Onnas, bad actual effect. If it’s in my deck it will probably be useful, but the rest of the cards really need to support it. Definitely not an automatic inclusion.
Alas, Blue is the weakest color here. The cards are okay, they just cost 1-2 mana more than comparable ones in different colors. A lot of “meh” all around.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant: Adequate card, it’s great flipped as the Epic killer. I think Epic is going to have quite an impact in Constructed, so keep it in mind as a sleeper rare.
Evermind: Man, oh man does this card piss me off. Only after you spend four mana and play two other arcane spells does this actually provide an advantage. Card drawing might be useful in the set, but that doesn’t mean you should simply run blanks. I know people will try to make it work, but it seems almost condescendingly bad to print. If it had “discard this card to tap target land you control” you could as least use it for Ire decks. The best use I can think of is tossing two of them to Waking Nightmare and gaining 2:1. Reciprocal card advantage yo.
Ghost-Lit Raider: Ertai? Brine Seer? I suppose, but 1/1s die like no one’s business. If you’re in the winning position it keeps you there, but helps not at all if you’re not. Good soulshift/channel, bad creature.
Kaho, Minamo Historian: Win big or lose big. Assuming your 2/2 doesn’t die, you win. Probably worth it, like Panoptic Mirror was. At least in this version you don’t need the card in your hand.
Minamo Scrollkeeper: I like this little guy. Excellent defense, semi-useful ability. Draw first, people!
Shifting Borders: “In response to your Sweep card I’ll… do… nothing…” For 4 mana.
Shinen of Flight’s Wings: Another good splash in the sense that 3/3 fliers for five are good. Technically it has another ability, so jump for joy.
Oboro Envoy: Really excellent ability. It might not be quite splash worthy due to its wholly defensive nature, but then again, it’s very strong. I have a feeling people will be getting very annoyed by this card for a while.
Oppressive Will: Good counterspell or no? The first instinct was a resounding no, as these pay x counterspells usually suck the big one in the late game. But what if the late game looks like the mid game, with everyone holding onto mana? Then the Will looks a little more solid. Removal is scarce enough to make it almost seem worth it, but that’s probably just an indication on how bad Blue is in this format.
Shape Stealer: 1/1s without tap abilities are usually awful. Case in point.
Death Denied: If it’s actually an instant, it’s a very solid one. Besides the arcane-ness of it, the “X: draw X creatures” seems quite strong. And look at your hand fill up! With creatures that Channel. The good ones! This card is nice bonus for playing Black.
Neverending Torment: My call for one of the strongest cards in the set, Constructed and otherwise. All you need is parity or math skills and you easily win the game in short order. I predict good things and high value for this gem.
Exile Into Darkness: Slowwww. And it won’t kill what you want it to kill. In the right decks it could be okay, but definitely not an automatic despite the appeal of reusable kill.
Gnat Miser: Mise D00d! See previous comments regarding 1/1s with no arrows in the text box.
Kuro’s Taken: Here’s another annoying fellow. He’s probably common, and that’s just a pain. The regeneration cost is a touch high, but you can always just trade it off if you have better things to do with your mana.
Pain’s Reward: This one is for the skillful ladies and gentlemen. The rewards are very high if you’re brave enough. Prerelease players can tend towards the defensive, which also supports this inclusion. I think I’ll be willing to pay 10 life, but I doubt it’s going to get that far. People can be so scared…
Skull Collector: Regenerating Trained Armodon that gives you a personal Howling Mine. There’s nothing special to talk about here, but I sure hope I get to play it and/or not play against it.
Black is a touch weak in the set, but it gets some easy removal and semi-easy card draw. Good defense, good late game, and good in Champions will make this color popular enough.
Adamaro, First to Desire: All the Maros in the set are strong and playable, but I particularly like the design on this card. It’s way above the curve if it comes down on turn 3 (unless they triple mulligan. Super Tech!) but its presence puts a hamper on the game plan of keeping a large hand size. Just good design.
Akki Drillmaster: Battle Rampart was on of my personal favorites in Masques block, and this guy does very similar things. Haste is an underrated, useful ability. With all those cards in hand and this guy out, your opponent might be leaving gentlemen back for no good reason. That’s a positive for you.
Feral Lightning: My thoughts on Spark Elemental are well known. These tokens don’t have trample. Thus…
Ghost-Lit Raider: Deadly card. It’s definitely going to do something good, and easily ressurectable should it end up in the graveyard somehow. Ghost-Lit Raider is certainly a reason to do something with Red.
Godo’s Irregulars: It’s a 1/1 unblockable until it isn’t. It might look good on paper, but 1/1s that are there for the stats don’t win games. 1/1s…
Hidetsugu’s Second Rite: I like this card an awful lot, probably more than I should. It seems like it takes a bit of work, but the rewards are extreme. I’d say its existence is scary enough to do good things, much less the actual casting of it. Again, it might be overvalued, but I’m inclined to think of it very strongly.
Red’s cards are easily evaluated and unfortunately, aside from the Raider, come up short. A lot rely on ideal circumstances, instead of being across the board solid. That inconsistency is usually a death-knell for Sealed deck. Merely adequate creatures and adequate removal does not a primary color make.
Briarknit Kami: This card would have been fantastic in Champion or Betrayers as that 3+ power five-mana card. Unfortunately in this set it’s up against Okina Nightwatch. The kami is probably a little better, although your deck could make it an exception. The real problem is having the choice of the two, because odds are you can’t run it all. Needless to say the third option, Fiddlehead Kami, is trash.
Descendant of Masumaro: So many things have to go right for this thing to stay above 2/2. It’s not impossible of course, but it definitely needs to be considered in regards to your deck and not personal strength. If the owner plays it well and/or the opponent screws it up, the potential is there. I still think the mystique is going to be more impressive than the execution.
Elder Pine of Jukai: If the spoiler is accurate in regards to this card, I’m a little scared. That’s a phenomenal ability to have on a creature, much less a spirit and one with Soulshift. Good late, great early. 10/10.
Ghost-Lit Nourisher: Scary in the same way the red one is, it’s something to do with all that mana you’ll be retrieving with Green. I’m not sure it beats out Elder Pine, but I’ll just give it a 10/10 and leave it as an exercise for the reader.
Inner Calm, Outer Strength: Long title for a good common. Green gets pretty tough in the 3 mana range with rock solid cards like this. +4+4 or better for 3 mana. Arcane? Why not?
Kami of the Unkept Garden: Super rock solid. You’ll note that I haven’t listed every creature that’s playable in the previous colors and I won’t do so here. Excellent stats + soulshift on demand makes this one way over the curve. I’ll just be safe and give it a 10/10.
Molting Skin: Broken Fall? How aptly named. This was annoying in Tempest and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be good in this set either. Making your hand bigger whenever you want seems convenient as well.
Nightsoil Kami: Despite the name, this guy is not #$%^. A better Craw Wurm? Sacrilege! The question is whether an extra point of power and big soulshift beats out and extra point of toughness and trample. Tricky problem, so just make it easy and play both.
Promised Kannushi: Ugh. Yes, it brings back Dragons. No, it will never work how you want it to.
Seek the Horizon: The Green Concentrate. In a set where hand size matters. Splashable, so do so.
Stampeding Serrow: Green really made out well in this set.
It looks like Green did quite well in this set. Synergy, lots of card advantage, and really efficient beaters. If you find some removal, the Green cards will take care of the rest.
Blood Clock: “I could pay 2 life or I could return Yuki-Onna to my hand. Choices, choices…”
Manriki-Gusari and O-Naginata: That’s a lot of power for pretty cheap costs. I would happily run either one. Why not you?
Scroll of Origins: Will your deck ever have 7 cards in hand? More specifically, will your deck ever have 7 cards in hand and have a chance of winning? Some will and some won’t, so use your judgment. If you’re not sure, keep it out of the maindeck and side it in. Don’t start the Scroll of Origins? LOLOLOL.
Wine of Blood and Iron: Disgusting. Anyway, once you have eight mana and an unblocked creature that can use a quadruple power boost and they don’t have Curtain of Light and you play the Wine on turn 4 and playing out all those lands didn’t sacrifice the game for you and all this effort actually results in a kill instead of getting them down to 8 life before dying yourself, then full steam ahead. I hear the organizers are running SSS drafts all day!
Tomb of Urami: It’s not so much that the effect is tough to pull off, it’s that life loss bit when tapping it for mana. Bottle of Suleiman where you put a 5/5 into play and lose 5 life? I suppose if you need a finisher, but this set doesn’t lack in that department.
Interesting Stats about Saviors of Kamigawa
Number of two-mana creatures that trade with Humble Budoka: 5
Number of two-mana creatures that kill Humble Budoka and live: 7
Champions of Kamigawa:
Number of two-mana creatures that trade with Humble Budoka: 8
Number of two-mana creatures that kill Humble Budoka and live (Ignoring flipped versions of certain cards [Tobita crushes the Budoka!]): 2, and one of them is Battle-Mad Ronin.
Betrayers of Kamigawa
Number of two-mana creatures that trade with Humble Budoka: 5, assuming Blademane Baku gets help
Number of two-mana creatures that kill Humble Budoka and live: Zero, although Split-Tail Miko, Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch, and Tallowisp can survive an encounter.
What does this mean? Speed isn’t what it used to be. Saviors has a ton of ways to mix it up with Bears in the set, which means that an early curve can easily get shut down. Interestingly Green, probably the best color in the set, has no way of slowing down a really speedy opening. But since every other color does, it’s not much of a foil.
*Number of excellent rare Maros: 5
*Number of excellent rare fat fliers with useful abilities: 6.5
*Number of ninjas in the set: zero
*Number of non-ninjas in the set: 165
*Number of times people are going to be cursing Hail of Arrows: helluvalot.
*Number of times Promised Kannushi is going to get back a Dragon in the history of Magic: Only when your opponent wants it to.
Not knowing if the information presented here is correct, I wish everyone good luck this weekend in sifting the treasure from the trash. Win your pod/flight, win some drafts, have fun, and most importantly, win.
Noastic on Magic Online
NWeil _ -at-hot:mail dot com.